By Robin Y Rivet.
Bite down carefully. If it’s meltingly soft and syrupy, or spicy-sweet and crunchy, both textures might be ripe persimmons. The Oriental persimmon tree - Diospyros kaki is revered not only for its bounty of sugary, succulent fruit, but for the physical beauty of its shiny-green, leafy canopy; colorful, autumn foliage; and glowing orbs of 3”- 4” coral-toned fruit - clinging through winter on dormant limbs; especially where freezes are rare.
Better yet, persimmon trees adapt to most San Diego’s climate zones, accept both heat and cold, and become drought tolerant over time – especially if nurtured when young. For home gardens, they require minimal dormant pruning, and have well-behaved root systems. Plus, they’re large enough at maturity to provide welcoming shade: just the perfect size to cool your picnic table, or an outdoor bench for summertime reading. They also accept acid or alkaline soils, and tolerate clay better than most tree species. And, if you’re lucky, from mid-to-late fall you might reach up and pluck a fruit off the tree to eat fresh – as long as it’s a “non-astringent” cultivar.
There are two distinct types of Asian persimmon trees - “astringent and non-astringent” berries; and both are locally available to purchase bare root in early spring - when dormant. Did I say “berries”? Yes. Persimmons, like tomatoes, are botanically considered to be “berries”, even though neither is associated as a “common berry”, whereas strawberries and raspberries, are not actually berries in the botanical sense. Fuyu, Jiro, Izu, and “Suruga”, (a variety especially useful in warm climates), are non-astringent cultivars and “eat off the tree” fruits, and Hachiya, Saijo, and Honan Red, are examples of tasty astringent varieties, but don’t mistakenly take a bite of the latter - if unripe. These need to be super-soft – almost mushy ripe to consume; but then they’re splendid in baking.
If you do try munching astringent types too early, you may never want to eat another persimmon. Growing native and wild, the American Persimmon tree - Diospyros virginiana was common in southern New York where I grew up. I did make the mistake of biting into a small fruit as a child, and it caused me to avoid persimmon fruits completely - until a few years ago. Now, I’m a huge fan of the non-astringent variety - mostly because I do not bake much, but truly love fresh fruit. If you decide to grow astringent types, drying your fruit is one way to assure you don’t taste that nasty bitterness. This specialized process is called “Hoshigaki” and is practiced in Japan to preserve the astringent fruit whole. It uses their natural sugars as a preservative - while removing all bitterness. Basically, you peel the fruits, and hang them up to dry. Then you massage them… What? I am not into “massaging” fruit, never mind peeling and hanging them up one-by-one, but maybe it might be something you’d try? I’ve heard they’re delicious.
If you’re not sold on the value of growing Diospryos fruit species, consider this: Along with fruit, the Ebonaceae family of plants includes “ebony”, the revered hardwood, and it is used in fine woodworking and making musical instruments like piano keys and guitar fret boards. Concerts anyone?
Member Robin Rivet is an ISA Certified Arborist –
contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information on pollination and propagation: